Almost certainly, there are two words that have been drilled into you as important since the day you started talking.
Now, research shows these words have surprising power over how others perceive you.
The words, as you may have guessed, are “Thank you.” Your mother always told you to thank people who helped you, and, as with many things in life, it turns out that Mom was right.
Researchers in Australia have published a study showing that expressing gratitude changes how others perceive you.
Subjects, in this case college students, were asked to assist a high school student “mentee” by reading a college application essay. All subjects then received a hand-written note, ostensibly from the student they helped. Half of the notes included the sentence, “Thank you SO much for all the time and effort you put into doing that for me!”
This may seem to be a perfunctory expression of gratitude, but the effects on the recipients were surprising:
The university students who were thanked were more likely to provide their contact details, such as their phone number or email address, for the mentee than those who were not thanked.
The grateful mentees were also rated as having significantly warmer personalities. The results suggest that the reason why people ‘find’ grateful others is because of this perceived warmth.
My personal experience bears this out. A few years ago, I was part of a committee evaluating candidates for a high level academic position. After a round of telephone interviews, one of the candidates sent an email thanking the group for the opportunity to discuss the position. Many of the committee members were impressed by this, and it was mentioned several times during candidate ranking discussions.
I must be jaded. I’ve received dozens of such post-interview notes, and found the reaction of the impressed committee members surprising. But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t subconsciously influenced to find the note-writer a bit warmer than his fellow applicants.
Make It Memorable
The study didn’t explore alternate forms of saying “thank you,” but I’m quite sure the fact that the sentiment was expressed in a hand-written note was important in getting it noticed. A perfunctory “thanks!” a the end of a phone call or in person conversation would, in my opinion, be processed as a social nicety and be far less powerful.
On the other hand, I think you could actually increase the power of expressing gratitude by drawing attention to it. For example, you could add a bit of a story:
Thank you SO much for taking the time to meet with me. Based on your advice, I completely rewrote my resume and feel it now expresses my capabilities in a clear and succinct way. Your help was invaluable, I really appreciate it!”
I think that one reason the notes in the Australian experiment were effective was that they specifically referenced the interaction. A generic thank you note would likely have been less impactful.
I’ve occasionally had business thank you notes accompanied by a small gift. This certainly makes the other person’s gratitude obvious and memorable, though I’d use this strategy with caution. In some situations, a gift might seem inappropriate or over the top. If you do try the gift strategy, don’t let the gift speak for itself. Be sure to include a note of thanks with enough detail to make it personal.
Thank you notes have long been employed by some businesses. Forbes contributor Micah Solomon (@micahsolomon) published a post, How 13,000 Handwritten Thank-You Notes Built A Thriving Business, that attributes the success of a young tech accessory company, HEX, to its extensive use of employee-written cards. Some customers have even shared their notes via social media, as the Instagram image from Micah’s post shows.
Another example of effective use of thank you notes comes from fellow Austinite Shawn Collins (@shawncollins), who, with co-founder Missy Ward (@MissyWard), runs the Affiliate Summit Marketing Conference. After each show, they send out lots of hand-written thank you notes. Does it cost them time and money? Sure. But take a look at this tweet I spotted the other day:
— Nate Ivie (@nate_ivie) September 4, 2014
It’s hard to put a dollar value on the impact of thank you notes, but it’s a certainty that for every person who calls attention to their note in social media there are dozens of others who say nothing but whose feel warmer toward the business and individuals.
I wouldn’t recommend letting anyone else write an important thank you to someone who helped you, but if you are thanking hundreds of customers, for example, you may need some help. The firm mentioned in the Forbes piece “insourced” the writing to their employees. But, many others use virtual assistants and other service providers to handwrite large numbers of thank you notes.
There are even specialized firms like That’s Gratitude who will help businesses, brides, and the bereaved deal with the business of creating individualized, hand-written notes.
However you get it done, follow Mom’s advice: write that thank you note!